Nats GM Mike Rizzo spoke with the press today about the offseason to come, as Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com reports. He expressed satisfaction with the “good, steady brand of baseball” that the club displayed, while acknowledging the disappointment of failing to advance in the playoffs. Rizzo wasn’t keen to offer up much in the way of details on the team’s planning, but did provide some insight. Here are the highlights from his press conference and a few more notes on the team:
- Rizzo praised his roster’s versatility, suggesting that it allows “a lot of different directions to improve our ballclub.” Trea Turner, in particular, could occupy a middle infield role or play in center — leaving the Nats free to pursue a center fielder, shortstop, or perhaps even a corner outfielder (while moving Bryce Harper to center). As Rizzo put it, Turner’s presence “allows us to build around that, meaning that it gives us more options in the marketplace to improve the ballclub.”
- One thing that won’t occur is a permanent move of Turner to second base, with Daniel Murphy taking over for Ryan Zimmerman at first. “No, Zim’s our first baseman going into this offseason and spring training,” Rizzo said. The veteran struggled to a .218/.272/.370 batting line this year, by far his worst as a big leaguer, but he made plenty of hard contact (34.7%) and may have been unfortunate to carry a .248 BABIP.
- The Nats have some notable free agents, of course, including catcher Wilson Ramos and closer Mark Melancon. Rizzo wouldn’t commit to a strategy on the burly backstop, whose season ended with ACL surgery. The plan is to “do all the due diligence on the medicals” before making a call on issuing Ramos a qualifying offer and deciding whether to pursue him.
- As for Melancon, Rizzo offered effusive praise for his work on the mound and presence in the clubhouse. Looking ahead, though, Rizzo suggested that he isn’t locked into Melancon or the other top relief options on the market. “It’s a broad, deep reliever market this year, and Mark is one of the elite relievers in the marketplace,” he said. “In a perfect world, you’d always like to have a guy that’s done it in the most competitive situations, but that’s not always possible. We’ve got a lot of options as far as guys with plus stuff and plus makeup, and it’s a deep relief market this year. So there’s different avenues to go and different routes that are attractive to us.” One possible internal candidate for ninth-inning duties, righty Shawn Kelley, is expected to be fully healthy after leaving the team’s final game with what looked to be a concerning injury, though it seems fair to expect the organization to pursue a closer regardless.
- The Nationals’ decision to ink Cuban outfielder Yadiel Hernandez was somewhat uncharacteristic, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post explores. Washington has largely sat out the market for Cuban players, but chose to take a limited risk ($200K bonus without promising a MLB roster spot) on the 29-year-old. Hernandez was worth the risk, per VP of international ops Johnny DiPuglia, because “he’s a legit left-handed hitter who grinds at-bats” and is capable of playing center field. Depending upon how the offseason progresses, Hernandez could conceivably position himself as a depth or even a bench piece, though the team hasn’t staked much on that possibility. “We thought we’d take a chance on him,” said DiPuglia. “He’s got a profile for us. We’ll find out.”
- One reason to add Hernandez? The fact that the team has an expensive decision to make on left-handed-hitting center fielder Ben Revere, who projects to earn $6.3MM in arbitration even after a dreadful campaign. Zuckerman looks at Revere’s 2016 season and the options for the Nats. From my perspective, there’s no real chance that the team will trust Revere with the regular job in center, making it hard to imagine that it will stake over $6MM on him. That’s especially true given the presence of Brian Goodwin, a former top prospect who made strides at Triple-A and showed well in his first taste of the majors.